What You Need to Know About Acne-Prone Skin and Sunscreen

Victoria Moorhouse
Woman at the beach

Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

For the sake of your skin and overall health, there’s no skipping sunscreen in the summer (or really, any season at all), but that doesn’t mean SPF settles the concerns of every skin condition. It prevents burns and the harsh rays of the sun from wreaking havoc, but those with acne-prone skin may still be sifting for the answer to one important complexion issue. Will sunscreen make acne worse? Does it contribute to clogged pores in the first place?

Because no one wants blemishes popping up due to taking responsible, protective skin care steps, we consulted with an expert to get the scoop on how certain SPF products can affect acne, how to get around the issue, and much more. Check it out below.

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Can Sunscreen Cause Acne?
In short, possibly, but it really depends on the type of SPF you’re applying to your skin. “Yes, certain types of sunscreens can cause breakouts in acne-prone skin. Look for the ones that say ‘non-comedogenic,'” says Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, DC.

The term non-comedogenic means that the product is designed to not clog your pores and then cause further irritation, pimples, and blemished areas on your skin. “For oily, sensitive, or acne-prone skin types, my favorite sunscreen is a physical one because it’s not as irritating, is slightly drying, and will not cause people to break out,” she explains.

And remember not to only rely on the term “oil-free.” Dr. Tanzi says this phrase gets complicated when it comes to sunscreen. “Sometimes there are ingredients, such as lanolin that don’t have ‘oil’ in the name, but can still clog pores and cause breakouts anyway. The better term to look for is not only oil-free, but non-comedogenic,” she says.

Physical sunscreens are SPF products that reflect the UV rays when they hit your skin. While you may associate them with a white or powdery residue, you can actually find plenty of physical sunscreens that blend very well, making it virtually unnoticeable that you just applied.

But It’s Not Just SPF
Don’t put all the blame on your sunscreen for that zit. “Excessive heat and sweating can cause breakouts on the forehead and buttocks,” explains Dr. Tanzi, who advises treating these breakouts with a 2% salicylic acid cleanser.

Look for Zinc and Titanium in Physical Sunscreens
If you struggle with acne and want to try physical sunscreens, you should know what ingredients to look for. Dr. Tanzi says that if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, you may consider using sunscreens with zinc titanium only, as she says these have a “somewhat drying effect on the skin.”

Keep Your Skin Care Products in Mind Before Heading Out in the Sun
Believe it or not, some skin care products you may be using on blemishes or acne can actually make you more susceptible for sunburn. Dr. Tanzi says that using a lot of certain medications like Retin A and salicylic acid can make your skin more sun-sensitive.

Try a Powder Sunscreen Over Your Makeup
To further prevent sunburn (and breakouts!), you may benefit from using a powder sunscreen over your makeup. “The best one I’ve found is from Colorescience. The powder locks the makeup in place, cuts down on facial oil on a humid day, and provides excellent sun protection,” says Dr. Tanzi of a product she uses personally.

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